The Michigan Senate passed a bill today that would allow pharmacies to sell medical marijuana, a contentious measure that some say would help the state’s cannabis industry and others fear would open the door to Big Pharma.
The bill passed by a 22-16 margin. It now moves to the House, where a vigorous debate is expected.
But it could all be for naught: Even if the bill gets the final green light, it won’t go into effect until (and unless) the federal government reclassifies marijuana as a Schedule II drug. The Drug Enforcement Agency has the ability to reschedule marijuana, but it has rejected the notion in the past.
Some industry insiders are therefore questioning whether the bill is just a big waste of time.
“This seems to be a pie-in-the-sky idea, in that it would have no effect unless federal scheduling changes,” said cannabis attorney Matthew Abel. “That’s been the Holy Grail for a long time. So it doesn’t appear this would change anything in the near future.”
The measure, Senate Bill 660, seeks to address a major problem with Michigan’s medical marijuana program: The initial law doesn’t outline approved methods for patients to get the drug, beyond caregivers.
Under the measure, pharmacies could dispense marijuana to patients with “enhanced” medical cannabis cards under a separate registry than the one that currently exists. These pharmacies, as well as cultivation operations supplying them, would have to obtain licenses via the Michigan Board of Pharmacy. They would also be subject to regulations and inspections.
Patients would have to give up their old MMJ cards and agree not to grow or sell marijuana themselves.
The measure could eventually box out current and former dispensary owners, especially if the state doesn’t pass separate regulations officially allowing traditional cannabis centers to operate. It also would open the door for large pharmaceutical companies.
But the bill would bring some stability to the business climate and create new opportunities for large-scale growing operations, packaging companies and labs (as all cannabis would have to be tested).
The proposal also is better than the current system, where a patchwork of unregulated dispensaries exist in a legal gray area. Many centers have been forced to close over the past two years due to a recent crackdown and several unfavorable court rulings. Those still in business face the daily threat of closure.
As for the fact that the bill depends on federal rescheduling of marijuana, the thinking is that the measure could help persuade the US government to move in that direction.
Brent Zettl – founder and chief executive officer of Prairie Plant Systems Inc., which lobbied in favor of the bill – said getting the state on board with sales via pharmacies is one step in a larger process.
“You can’t speak to federal authorities about (rescheduling marijuana so pharmacies can sell it) without having the authority to do it from the state,” Zettl said. “This allows us to open up a dialogue.”
Prairie Plant Systems is based in Canada and supplied all the medical marijuana in the country for over a decade. It has a subsidiary called SubTerra in Michigan that performs plant research and manufacturing. The company stands to benefit from the bill, as it could become one of the suppliers of cannabis to pharmacies.